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Endless Summer
In a summer bookended by two sad deaths, cricket Down Under provided lovers of the sport much to cherish and look back upon in years to come with fondness. Phil Hughes' fall in action was tragic yet heroic, and the stories of his career and his zest for life inspire us to find the best in ourselves as cricketers, sportspersons and men. The passing away of the hugely beloved and iconic Richie Benaud, likewise, inspire the heroic and the romantic and the challenge to live lives as worthy and fulfilled as the great man.

The action on the field and the spirit of the cricket, at most times, matched the romantic sentiments that come with our game. India's four tests, though dominated by Australia, provided fascinating watching as the batsmen led by Virat Kohli took the attack to the Aussies, at times suicidally so. Pity then that the team could seldom impose any pressure on the opposition in the field, in large part thanks to (now ex-) captain MS Dhoni's strange and poor leadership of the bowling & fielding effort.

The World Cup campaign that followed was rather unexpectedly good, stirred into life by those victories against Pakistan and South Africa in the first two matches. The road to the semi-final was a celebration of India's position at the top of the cricketing world, as fans in blue waving tricolors filled up grounds across Australia and New Zealand. The reliance on the top-order to make the runs was however evident in less-than-comfortable chases against the West Indies and Zimbabwe.

Come semi-final time then, the pressure of a tall run chase exposed the team's soft underbelly against a team that always rises its game on the big occassion. Contrary to Dhoni's post-match comment, I felt that the pacers had done reasonably well to restrict Australia from putting on something gargantuan, and when Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma were going strongly past the 12th over, a favourable outcome seemed within the realms of possibility. Dhawan and Kohli then played poor cricket, falling to bravado when intelligence was the need of the hour, while Raina fell to a poor shot before settling in. Rohit alone was outdone by the bowler, as Johnson bowled full and straight while the batsman was hanging back, having dispatched the previous delivery for six.

The cricket that followed at the hands of Dhoni & co was one of the stranger passages of play in my viewing, with a build up that took interminably long, and then petered out with only the hint of a spark. It was a pity that a campaign that brought much joy ended thus, not with a bang, but a whimper. Most fans, I am sure, would've preferred to be bowled out five overs earlier with the team at least threatening to chase down the total. Thus, three of India's campaigns since 1999 have come to an end at the hands of Australia, a head-to-head that calls for much correcting in the years to come. The other minor disappointment for me was Dhoni's non-retirement then and there in Sydney.

The Cup otherwise was brought to life by Brendon McCullum, his batting, his leadership and the spirit with which he played and led the Black Caps through the tournament, much like Martin Crowe back in '92. Mitchell Starc and Australia effectively nullified the Kiwi challenge in the first over of the final itself, taking his off-stump out with a knock-out yorker. Save for the Grant Elliot - Ross Taylor parternship, the rest of the final was a celebration of Australian cricket. There's much there to celebrate, as in the rest of that sun-drenched country, but one only wishes that so many of the Aussie cricketers, sparkling talents and outstanding athletes as they are, were not such uncouth boors at the same time.

The World Cup rolls over next to the Old Blighty in 2019, with apparently, only ten countries and not fourteen (or indeed more) competing. Four years can fly past rather quickly, if the last four are any to go by, but four years can also be long, full and well-lived. Here, then, to summer, sport, and life, and much gratitude for the presence in our lives of the glory of sport and the romance of cricket.
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